Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Happy Trails, Josh Willingham!

At one point, Josh Willingham was one of the most valuable players in baseball.  Not necessarily from a production perspective, but from a production for the money perspective.   Back in 2012 he was in the midst of a .260/.366/.524 season with 35 homers and 110 rbis, and he was in the first year of a 3 year, $21 million dollar contract. does some fancy stuff with player value, and that season was worth $15.9 million according to their metrics.  He could have been moved for a pretty good offer at the 2012 trade deadline, most likely, but the Twins decided he was worth holding on to even though the season was kind of an outlier and he wasn't likely to still be around when they got back to contending.  Two years later, injuries and poor play torpedoed his value, though a decent second half so far was enough to trick the Royals into trading for him, though the return is dubious at best.

Kansas City has been desperate for outfield power this season, particularly as they try to make a playoff push, so Willingham is pretty perfect match consider the Royals and their aversion to costs, both monetary and prospect wise.  Though his average is poor for the second straight year (.210), he put up a very nice OBP (.345) and decent enough slugging (.402) that he represents an upgrade for the Royals.  Royal outfielders have slugged just .381 this year, and their RFers (where Willingham will most likely play with Alex Gordon entrenched in left) have OPSed just .687 (better than the Twins, actually) so RF was a good place to upgrade and KC was able to do it fairly cheaply.

The Twins received pitcher Jason Adam in return, and it's a mixed bag for certain.  Adam's numbers in his minor league starting career aren't great.  Hell they aren't even good with a career 4.38 ERA, but his peripherals suggest he's better than that (7.4 K/9 vs. 2.6 BB/9, good FIP, bad BABIP) and most prospect lists I could find going into 2014 had him ranked right around #10, with my favorite guy John Sickels from ranked him 11th and said he's "not an ace, but could be a fourth starter."  High praise?  No.  A good return for Willingham at this point?  Absolutely.  Worst case he should end up a fairly decent middle reliever, which is where he's been slotted since being promoted to triple A midway through the year and put up a 2.35 ERA in 8 appearances.

Frankly I didn't expect to get anything of value for Willingham.  Actually, I didn't expect the Twins to trade him at all because I thought they had screwed it up twice, so getting a possibly useful arm is a pretty big win, if you ask me.  Even if his upside is just a 4th starter, if you stockpile enough of those kind of arms eventually you might end up with a few halfway decent starters.  In any case it's a good return on a player who was completely expendable and extremely unlikely to be around in the future.  Even if Adam doesn't pan out at the very least the Twins opened up their outfield playing time, which means plenty of time for Oswaldo Arcia to figure out his bat, Kennys Vargas at DH to gain experience, Chris Parmelee at first so the Twins can figure out he's not very good, and Danny Santana in center to gain time playing a new position.  And of course, Jordan Schafer who probably deserves his own post.  But I'm not going to do that.

Schafer, once regarded as a top prospect in the Braves' system, was selected off waivers by the Twins a few weeks back and has played well.  Since those top prospect days he was traded once (in the Michael Bourn deal) and waived twice, so as you might guess things haven't exactly been working out.  Schafer has been a terrible hitter in his major league career, hitting just .223/.308/.305 in just over 1,200 career plate appearances spread over 5 seasons, while striking out far too much for such little power.  This year he's been spectacularly bad, leading the Braves to finally throw in the towel.  Naturally, one team's trash is always the Twins' treasure bin, so they scooped him up to give a look.

Thus far he's played much better for the Twins than at any other point in his career, hitting .273/.333/.364 with 6 stolen bases and a very good walk rate, and he's playing pretty good defense, especially as a corner outfielder.  Don't get all excited though.  He's still striking out a ton and hitting for zero power, and nothing has drastically changed when you look deeper, so he's probably the same hitter his track record portrays.  But guess what?  He's fast, plays good defense, seems scrappy, and is under team control until 2017 so you know they're going to keep him around.  Get used to this guy.

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